Not long after the COVID-19 pandemic forced a shift to remote work, the internet security research firm Twingate conducted a national survey to find out what workers missed most about going to the office.
Heading the list: “Social connections,” followed closely by “human contact in general.”
Those answers aren’t surprising to Phil Kelley Jr., author of Presence and Profitability: Understanding the Value of Authentic Communications in the Age of Hyper-Connectivity.
“Interactions with other people are essential to human beings and those interactions significantly affect our state of mind,” says Kelley, who is also president and CEO of Salem One, a company that specializes in direct marketing, packaging, printing and logistics. “We were built to interact, to socialize, to gather and sort ourselves into social groups.”
Kelley understands the need and advantages of flexible remote-work schedules. He just worries that if remote work isn’t handled correctly – and if trends continue such as hot-desking policies where no one is assigned a permanent workspace at the office – the big loser will be corporate culture. And when culture suffers, so does the entire enterprise.
“It’s well established that a great organizational culture – one where people feel engaged, connected, purposeful – helps achieve financial success,” Kelley says. “This is because the attitudes of the people in an organization ultimately reach and affect customers. To put it simply, satisfied employees tend to foster satisfied customers.”
Developing A True Connection
That’s why it’s important to promote the development of authentic connections and good relationships within a company, he says.
“Unfortunately, building and maintaining good internal relationships gets more difficult when those relationships are mediated by technology via email, texts, phone calls or video calls,” Kelley says.
While some communication is better than none, what’s ultimately important is making a true connection, he says. For that purpose, a phone call is better than an email, a video chat is better than a phone call, and in-person is best of all.
“If working from home is done in such a way that eliminates employee interaction, then you will lower the quality of your culture,” Kelley says. “That will in turn lower employee satisfaction and increase turnover.”
He says it all goes back to a saying popularized by writer and management consultant Peter Drucker: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”
“I couldn’t agree more,” Kelley says, “because strategy is about abstract ideas and culture is about the connection between human beings. The more business people are attuned to the human need for making connections, the more successful they will be, because the need for connection is one of the most basic human needs.”
Making An Appearance
In that regard, Kelley recommends that ambitious employees make appearances at the office as much as possible, even if they routinely work remotely.
“If you are the sort of person who wants to advance, wants to sit in that big corner office, or even if you simply want the next promotion or raise, it is always best to take the path of highest relational value,” Kelley says. “Go into the office if given the choice of doing that or working from home. Go in person to that group meeting if they will let you in the door.”
He also suggests businesses make the effort to connect their brand to community-focused initiatives. That enhances corporate culture while helping the company connect in a different way with the customers it serves.
“Having your employees working alongside impassioned community volunteers and leaders for the betterment of all should be on the top of every brand promotion list,” Kelley says. “Engage your company with industry trade organizations, civic and church projects, charities, educational events, and so on. These kinds of activities are communication-value multipliers.
“Relationships are so important to people that any company that makes a real connection with a customer can win that customer’s loyalty for life.”